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Red Wings top Sharks 2-1 in shootout

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- The long wait for his first start as a Detroit Red Wing turned out to be well worth it for backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

Gustavsson made 25 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout, leading the Red Wings to a 2-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at HP Pavilion.

The Red Wings were coming off a 2-1 road loss at Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, a game in which Jimmy Howard made his 18th straight start. Coach Mike Babcock rested Howard and gave Gustavsson, a free-agent signee who has battled a groin injury throughout much of the season, his initial start. The former Toronto Maple Leaf faced the Sharks for the first time in his career.

"I was real excited to play today," Gustavsson said. "You play because you want to win. That's the best feeling you can have. The guys really helped me a lot today. They made it easier for me. I felt pretty good. ... I could see most of the shots. I don't think they had a chance to score anything with a rebound.

"The guys did a really good job there. I had a couple of saves earlier in the first period, and that really helped. You begin to feel like you can come up with the save after that. You get some momentum and try to ride it along."

Howard will start against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, Babcock said, but Gustavsson "will be ready to go right away" after that game.

"When you've been here this much time and you're injured all the time, it's probably hard on you mentally as well," Babcock said of Gustavsson. "What I liked about it is he earned himself more time in the net. The other thing I liked is it never hurts to have competition and people pushing each other. This season's a grind. [Howard] needs a breather every once in a while."

Damien Brunner scored the only goal in the tiebreaker, beating Antti Niemi in the second round and lifting the Red Wings to their third win in four games. Gustavsson stopped Michal Handzus, Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe.

Logan Couture scored San Jose's lone goal in regulation, beating Gustavsson early in the third period. Patrick Eaves responded quickly with his first goal of the season, the only one of Detroit's 34 shots to beat Niemi.

The Sharks were coming off a 3-2 shootout win at home Tuesday night over the Colorado Avalanche and hoping to win back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 29-31.

"They are a team that played last night," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the Red Wings. "We were fresh, and I didn't like our energy level most of the night. We looked lethargic. It's something that needs to be corrected."

The Sharks going to a shootout at home was hardly a surprise. It happened Thursday for the sixth time in their past seven home games. They're 3-3 in those shootouts.

Brunner, who leads Detroit with 10 goals, improved to 2-for-2 in shootouts with two game-deciders.

"It's a learning process," Brunner said. "I shot a lot of shootouts in Switzerland. The first couple I was really nervous, and then you get in there. You score the first time. Then you miss a couple. Then all of a sudden you realize -- I think the goalie has the advantage in hockey shootouts. And good players are going to miss, so why should I put myself under pressure going out there? I know I can score when I have confidence. It's about being loose a little bit out there and have some fun. It makes no sense to put yourself under pressure."

After two scoreless periods, Couture finally broke through at 4:49 of the third, giving the Sharks a 1-0 lead. The goal was Couture's eighth of the season and his second in two games.

Joe Thornton forced a turnover by Detroit's Justin Abdelkader in the neutral zone, quickly moved to the high slot and zipped a pass to a wide-open Couture in the right circle. Couture ripped a one-timer past Gustavsson, but that was the Sharks only goal of the night.

"It's the same story every game," Couture said. "We have to find a way to score more goals. Personally and as a team, we have to find a way to put it into the back of the net. You're not going to win many games scoring one goal, and we've found that out lately."

Eaves answered just 92 seconds later to get the Red Wings even. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall unloaded a blast from the blue line that got past three Sharks, deflected off Eaves and went past Niemi.

Kronwall, who entered the game with 16 points, the most by any NHL defenseman, earned his 15th assist of the season.

"It hit off the shin pad, actually," Eaves said. "We were all trying to screen, and Kronwall was able to get it through, which was great. It just kind of pinballed off one guy and then hit me and went in. We needed that bounce, especially after their goal. It was huge for our line. I thought we were playing well the whole game."

The Red Wings turned up the pressure in the third period, outshooting the Sharks 17-9. Jordin Tootoo and Jonathan Ericsson each had a great chance to put Detroit ahead late in regulation, but Niemi stopped Tootoo's shot from the low slot and Ericsson shot high from close range.

"We had a lot of energy, especially after playing last night," Eaves said. "I thought right from the start we didn't have any lull at all. We really wanted to have a push in this game after last night and go for the two points."

The Red Wings had 11 shots and the Sharks nine in a fast-pace first period, but neither team scored a goal.

Clowe, who returned to the lineup after serving his two-game suspension stemming from an altercation against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, had one of the best scoring chances. After a turnover in the neutral zone, Clowe got the puck on a breakaway, but Gustavsson deflected his backhander with less than six minutes left in the period.

Marleau, Couture and Joe Pavelski fired two shots apiece at Gustavsson, but he handled every one. Defenseman Jakub Kindl led the Wings with three first-period shots, while forward Tomas Tatar had two.

Typically a top-six forward, Clowe opened the game on the third line with Tim Kennedy and Handzus. After being out for two games and dropped to the third line, Clowe had plenty of energy and motivation. Through the first two periods he had two hits and two shots and blocked a shot.

Early in a scoreless second period, Clowe made a perfect pass to Handzus in the low slot, but Gustavsson rejected his shot.

"I thought we did a real good job as a line," Clowe said. "In the first, I had a breakaway that just missed. Overall, I think we did well. We did the things we need to do to be successful."

Neither team had as many scoring chances in the second as the defense tightened up. San Jose had seven shots to six for Detroit.

Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart, who played the past four-plus season with Detroit, faced his former teammates for the first time since returning to San Jose in an offseason trade. He ripped a long blast in the first period, but Gustavsson made the save. In the second period, Stuart laid out to block a shot by Tatar.

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